Biophilic design: the power of plants

Sophie Harbert

Sophie Harbert

As a sustainability consultancy we are obviously pro-plants, but did you know those houseplants you keep forgetting to water could benefit your physical and mental health, enhance productivity and even make you live longer? Alongside this is the added planetary benefit of absorbing carbon dioxide from the air.

The term ‘biophilia’ was popularised by Edward O. Wilson in 1984. It means ‘love for living systems’ and reflects the idea that humans coevolved with nature and need it in daily life. It is reported that we spend on average of 90% of our lives in buildings and with more and more people living in urban environments, we could hardly be more detached from nature.

Research shows that spending time in nature and green spaces can improve our wellbeing, contribute to stress reduction, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, boost self-esteem and even increase life expectancy. Similar studies have been done on blue spaces, attributing happiness to visiting coastal environments and being around water.

What is biophilic design?

Biophilic design involves incorporating the natural world into the built environment, to create positive spaces that enhance health and wellbeing. While bringing real plants inside is the best option due to their air filtration qualities, biophilic design can also involve materials like wood, water features, images of nature and maximising air flow to create a natural ambiance. Creating green roofs and urban gardens allow access to the benefits of nature to city dwellers. Additionally, they can help prevent the urban heat island effect, which is being intensified with climate change.

While it is tempting to consider vertical farming and hydroponics schemes like Harvest London as biophilic designs the discussion is still raging. These concepts bring greenery into cities, reducing food miles to consumers and restaurants. But they grow indoors, without soil in sterile environments under artificial light. Whether this can be considered biophilic design that contributes to a sustainable engagement with nature needs to be seen.

Benefits of biophilic design in the workspace

In typical offices in the UK, 60% of employees do not get access to sufficient daylight. Creating biophilic work spaces enhances creativity, performance and productivity while reducing absenteeism and increasing job satisfaction. As a predominantly remote business, Grain is a big fan of fellow B Corp Second Home’s workspaces across London, for co-working sessions surrounded by plants and natural light. Another example of a great biophilic space is Singapore’s Changi airport, which despite not quite offsetting its carbon contribution, provides a five-story indoor forest to provide fresh air to passengers and counteract travel stress.

A study has even proven that hospital patients with views of nature had shorter recovery times compared to those looking onto an internal wall, revealing an opportunity for the design of healthcare facilities. Similarly with schools, classrooms that are more exposed to nature have been proven to increase cognitive ability, attention and memory levels as well as provide concentration benefits to children with learning difficulties.

So, if you are looking to enhance office productivity and better health and wellbeing of your employees, incorporating more plants into your workspace is a great way to start. As urbanisation and climate issues grow, no doubt the greening of our cities offers a sustainable solution. We look forward to seeing more and more biophilic design. Send us some examples!

Photo credit: cattan2011

Get in touch or book a call